Predictors of perceived wrongfulness and harmfulness of crime among residents in Portugal

Mária Lúcia Calmeiro • Pedro Sousa • José Cruz


Perceived crime seriousness •  Wrongfulness •  Harmfulness • Conservation values •  Legal cynicism •  Religiosity •  Exposure to media coverage of crime 


The present study aims to examine crime seriousness perceptions by scrutinising their key components – perceived wrongfulness and harmfulness of crime. It also seeks to examine the extent to which these concepts are related to sociodemographic characteristics, conservation values, legal cynicism, religiosity, and exposure to media coverage of crime. A survey was administered to 408 residents in Portugal containing vignettes pertaining to two seriousness levels of both conventional and white-collar crime. The twenty resulting offence scenarios were grouped into four groups: heavier scenarios of conventional crimes, lighter scenarios of conventional crimes, heavier scenarios of white-collar crime, and lighter scenarios of white-collar crime. The results show that only legal cynicism has a consistent influence on crime wrongfulness perceptions for the four crime groups and some influence on crime harmfulness perceptions for lighter scenarios of conventional crimes. As for conservation values and religiosity, the only effects observed are on the perceived wrongfulness and perceived harmfulness of heavier scenarios of conventional crimes. Exposure to media coverage of crime does not seem to have an impact on the assessment of these two perceptual variables. Sociodemographic characteristics and victimization experiences explain only minor differences in the assessment of the seriousness, wrongfulness, and harmfulness of crimes.